I love when intern candidates ask how we run internships. And if they don’t ask, I tell them anyway and proceed to explain why they should ask. What does the answer to “how does a company run internships” tell you? It’s simple: it tells you the amount of time you will spend working closely with experienced members of the organization from engineers to product managers to UX designers, etc. And, how you spend that time working with great engineers is the fastest way to become a great engineer.
How a company runs internships is one of the two fundamental answers you need to be convinced of before accepting an internship. The other fundamental question is, “What is the company culture like?” Of course company brand and money play a role in the decision, but I would not trade my summer for a notch on my resume if it does not translate into a great summer becoming the best engineer. However this is a topic for another post.
Our approach to internships is simple: every engineering intern becomes a full-fledged member of one of our Product teams.
Making sure that engineers in the company have the time and incentive to teach and spend time with interns is crucial to a great learning experience. Building the company’s lunch app with a team of other interns is a glorified homework assignment that can just as well be done with your college roommate.
By helping every intern become a full-fledged member of one of our Product teams, it puts his/her work on par with everyone else on the teams. Meaning, his/her problem becomes the team’s problem, collaboration with other members of the team (including engineers, PMs, data scientists, etc.) happens naturally, and the work is meaningful and important to the company as well as the team. No one will be too busy to spend time on a problem that they know needs to be solved. Working in a fast-moving Product team is a challenge for someone who lacks experience, so every intern has a dedicated mentor. “Learn and Teach” is one of Knewton’s core values, and everyone goes out of their way to share and help, but a mentor has the explicit responsibility for it and the mentor’s career growth within the company depends on it.
The final piece of the puzzle is figuring out what to work on. This is tricky and can make or break an internship, so we spend time getting it right. The project has to be in the team’s semi-critical path and have a meaningful outcome. Since “Ship and Learn” is another Knewton core value, an intern will spend a couple of weeks just working with the team—learning, shipping, and seeing what sparks her interest. At the end of that period, with help from her mentor and manager, she will have outlined a project that is meaningful and something she can feel passionate about.
This is a simple approach geared toward cross-functional collaboration and executing a project that matters to the team and the intern. It is about learning how to build web-scale software with an experienced team.
We want interns to have great experiences: learn from our talented engineers, data scientists, and PMs, on top of having an exciting summer in the heart of NYC.
Remember, before committing to an internship, ask how it is run. You will definitely make your interviewer happy and you’ll end up more fulfilled, gaining valuable skills for your future.